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March 10, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Lanai City

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Great news! I finally figured out a way to make everyone happy: I'm going to write my stories the old-fashioned way (long and personal), but instead of having the photos down the side of the webpage, I'm going to do a separate slide show so those pressed for time can still get a feel for the journey. I think it's brilliant, do you? Hopefully, you will help support the site by checking out (clicking on) our sponsors and advertisers.

Now that we've taken care of housekeeping, let's get down to business! This week's feature story is on the first part of my trip to the Hawaiian island of Lanai, so say Aloha! Even though they are just nine miles (20 minutes) apart, the two plush hotels I stayed at are completely different because of the geography. This week's hotel is The Four Seasons Resort Lana'i, The Lodge at Koele, which is in the upcountry. So if you are interested, sit back, grab a sweater, and relax. We also have stories on fine places to eat in Chicago and Italy.

If you missed last week's stories, they were about my flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, some cool local Oahu hangouts, the Trump Waikiki Spa, and a Waikiki boutique hotel that's a block from the beach with rooms starting at just $115 a night. Oh, and you don't want to miss reading about my three-hour jaunt to Vegas on Virgin America's private charter to hang with their Fly Girls.

To get to Lanai from the mainland, you have two choices: Fly into Honolulu's international airport and jump on one of Island Air's five flights a day (they also have one from Molokai), or fly to Maui and take the 30-minute ferry over. I wanted to do both, but I ended up just flying since it was cheaper and more convenient. However, the ferry is supposedly fantastic (when the water's not rough) in the winter/early spring so you can see the whales up close. But a taxi from the OGG (Kahului, Maui) airport to the port in Lahaina is not cheap (probably close to $100). The ferry is $30 each way and there are five departures each day. Airfares from Honolulu start at $49 each way.

See The Lanai Photo Slide Show

I was a little skeptical about flying an airline I had never heard of-Island Air-and I was praying it wasn't going to be a small plane, because they scare the hell out of me. But my fears eased when I saw it wasn't a six-seater Cessna but rather a 37-seater Dash 8 (100 & 200s). My nerves got even calmer when I spotted the pilots-they weren't some young guns but men with gray hair. Woo hoo! My palms could stop sweating. Island Air has been around for 30 years and they have three aircraft. FYI: They are mileage partners with United (UA) and Continental, but my UA miles from these flights still haven't posted so I might have to follow up with them.

Check-in for Island Air was quick. It takes place in Honolulu's domestic terminal, where security is a breeze. FYI: If you are checking bags they charge $10 for the first checked bag (up to 50 lbs.) and $35 for each additional. If you have a bag that's questionable in size but normally fits in the overhead of a jet, gate check it so you can save some dollars.

There's not much in the gate area-just one bar-restaurant, a bathroom, and low ceilings-so it's best to bring food or go to the international terminal, which is a few hundred yards away. The best thing I found in the domestic terminal was free Hawaii-style coffee that Island Air offers to their customers. They also serve it onboard-it's all they serve, in fact, so don't come thirsty. But that's still more than what most airlines serve for a 25-minute flight.

Island Air has open seating and rows 1 and 4 have the most leg room (they are exit rows). I was told by the gate agent that on the flight from Honolulu, passengers on the left side of the plane have the best views, and they do! It was surreal seeing the propeller and then Diamond Head in the background. It looked like one of those old United Airlines Hawaii posters. On top of that I saw about 50 whales (no lie), mostly right off the coast of Oahu. And the best part?! The flight was smooth as can be since the skies were clear and calm. Big thumbs up! Or, as our reader Chuck suggests, 5 out of 5 jet planes. Woot!

I've seen the island of Lanai many times, as it's just nine miles from Maui. In fact, I've even flown over it once in a helicopter, but had never stepped foot on Lanai until last week. The first time I even heard of Lanai was in 1994, when Bill Gates got married there. I figured the place has to be special if it's good enough for the wedding of the richest man in the world.

Lanai is the least populated (3,193 residents) of Hawaii's six (Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Lanai, Molokai, Kauai) most popular islands. Lanai has a land area of 141 square miles (365 sq km), with 47 miles (75 km) of shoreline. It's the sixth-largest Hawaiian island out of Hawaii's 18. What's nice is that on Lanai there are no stoplights or traffic. There are just three hotels and a few bed-and-breakfasts.

Lanai was uninhabited until the 1500s. It was a sovereign land until King Kamehameha I united all the Hawaiian Islands under his rule. Later Lanai was purchased and converted into a cattle ranch. The former manager of the ranch was George Munro, who made his mark by planting the first of what became the island's many pine trees (now they line all the major roads). After that Lanai was known as the "Pineapple Isle," since James Dole turned it into the world's foremost grower and exporter of pineapples. Many Filipinos and Chinese came over to work on the farms, so today the island's population is 65 percent Filipino and 25 percent Hawaiian. More on Lanai's history can be found on

David H. Murdock, a billionaire who lives in California, acquired the company Castle & Cooke (they owned Dole) in 1985. When the farming became too expensive, he built a couple hotels to give the plantation workers jobs and maintain island life. If it wasn't for him Lanai would probably be off the map. For more on David Murdock see this Wikipedia entry.

The Lanai airport is small but lovely (bags come out within 10 minutes). The first thing I did besides use the loo was go to the Four Seasons check-in desk, where they assigned me to one of their shuttles. The hotel's fantastic service doesn't start until you arrive to the actual hotel. In fact, I was a little disappointed in the initial welcome. You would think that if the Four Seasons was going to have a check-in desk at the airport, like they do in Bora Bora, that their workers would help guests with their bags and welcome them with a lei, cold towel, and drink. Actually, just a bottle of water once you stepped on the bus would've been perfect. The good news is that all of that happens once you get to one of their two resorts, which are just minutes away.

There is no public transportation on Lanai. You will either want to rent a car or, if you are staying at one of the Four Seasons hotels, sign up for the shuttle service. The shuttles are run by Castle & Cooke; guests pay a one-time transportation fee of $45 per person, $22.50 for children 4–12. It's complimentary for kids three and under. That fee gets you round-trip airport transfers and unlimited travel to and from Lanai City and the Four Seasons hotels. FYI: It operates pretty much every half hour from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and they are on time, which is surprising for an island.

The first hotel I stayed at was the Four Seasons Resort Lana'i, The Lodge at Koele. It's a 10-minute drive from the airport and we made a pit stop along the way in Lanai City to drop some guests off at the car rental office.

The first thing I noticed about Lanai is that the weather is cool up in the higher elevations where the airport and the Koele Lodge are. The other hotel, Manele Bay, is on the coast, so warm like the rest of Hawaii (more on that next week). But I was so glad I brought a sweater-being nearly 1,700 feet (518 m) above sea level makes a big difference. The average temperatures in Lanai City range from 66 to 72 F (18.8–22.2 C) depending on the season. Lanai is also one of the drier islands, with an annual average rainfall of only around 37 inches (94 cm).

I hadn't checked out the website for the Four Seasons Resort Lana'i, The Lodge at Koele, so I had no idea what to expect. Sometimes I like it better that way, so it's a surprise, and this definitely was one (a welcome one). Driving along the Cook pine tree–lined streets reminded me of the upcountry on Maui or the Big Island and the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. It's a unique feel that can't be described, only experienced.

When I stepped off the bus, I was greeted by two employees who addressed guests by their names and gave them a fresh lei and a warm unscented towel and led them to the Great Hall (lobby), which is a huge high-ceilinged lodge with a pair of matching monster stone fireplaces on each side, ornate chandeliers, and elegant, comfortable furniture all around. At night the Great Hall turns up the coziness as the fires are lit with Kiawe wood, Uncle Kimo plays on the grand piano, and guests listen while playing Scrabble or sipping the famous hot chocolate (guests choose dark, milk, or white chocolate, as well as which type of milk and toppings) and of course indulge in homemade s'mores. Can you say yum?

The Lodge at Koele has 102 rooms. The interiors and exteriors are all filled with Mr. Murdock's private art collection, which he has shipped in from all around the world. Some of it fits perfectly, and some is a bit odd[HOW SO?] (I seemed to be the only person who felt that way). But every time I looked out at the lush gardens, I had to consciously remind myself where I was, and that usually only happens when I wake up. Seeing a giant pagoda that he had brought over piece by piece from China and the reflecting pond kept making me think I was in Asia. Then guests with light jackets on playing croquet and the greenhouse in the background (he shipped it from Belgium since his wife loved it) made me think I was in Europe. That is, until I went inside the greenhouse and saw all the colorful orchids, which is why it's officially called the Orchid House.

One thing is for sure: This place is so romantic I felt foolish being by my lonesome, but all the staff fixed that. Here the staff really get to know the guests and their habits. For example, every time I took a seat at breakfast or lunch by myself, they would hand me the menu along with a magazine and newspaper. That's so simple, but brilliant. Most restaurants don't even have magazines or newspapers, so solo diners who forget to bring reading material just sit there looking out into space like a loser.

Guests don't check in at a desk but are instead are seated in the Great Hall and served pineapple juice, which takes the monotony out of filling out the usual paperwork. Moments later you are escorted to your room. There are only two floors and we took the elevator even though my bags had already been whisked up to my room. From then on I took the stairs.

My room had a balcony with rustic outdoor furniture and beautiful views of the gardens and their miniature golf course. The room was tastefully decorated with colorful residential-style furnishings. All the rooms have carved pineapple finials on the two-poster beds (the sheets and pillows are dreamy), ceiling fans, paintings by local artists, and cozy window seats (I took a nap on mine). There are also 40-inch (101-cm) LCD TVs, mini-fridges (with two complimentary bottles of water), and Internet access ($14.50 a day). The room was cozy and solidly built, and I couldn't hear any outside noise except from the birds and crickets when I opened my balcony door.

The bathrooms are spacious and have a marble double-basin vanity and deep soaking tub with shower. They also have real Q-tips, not those nasty flimsy plastic swab things, and plush L'Occitane toiletries. The only thing I didn't like about the hotel was the fact that on the first day the maid exchanged my hanging dirty towels for fresh ones. They seem to do this at every five-star hotel, so that's why you have to track them down and ask them not to replace the towels or put fresh sheets on the bed (if you are conscious of the environment, that is). When I saw my housekeeper outside the door of the room next to mine, I explained my wishes and she said, “Not a problem, Mr. Jet.” For a maid to know the names of the guest is remarkable. I've only seen this in Fiji and Asia.

There's a bunch of restaurants to choose from at the Four Seasons. Not only can you dine at Koele's restaurants, but you can dine at Manele Bay's and still do a room charge. At Koele I pretty much ate in their Terrace restaurant, since it's a bit more casual than the elegant dining room that feels like a grand estate's living room. I also had room service one night. I ordered fried chicken, corn, and mashed potatoes. I didn't love the chicken, probably because it was organic and too fresh-I'm used to that commercial fried chicken that's terrible for you and full of hormones but tastes delicious. However, all my other meals were fantastic.

The Terrace serves contemporary American cuisine with traditional Hawaiian and Asian touches. The first day for lunch I had Lanai fried rice with Thai basil and a side of chicken satay. The satay was okay, but the rice, which I mixed with Sriracha sauce, was insane. The next day for lunch I had chicken pho ($15) with fresh veggies on the side (basil, cilantro, and hot peppers). I stirred them in and it hit the spot on a cool windy day. For dessert, a box of mini chocolate chip cookies ($5) accompanied me back to my room. Speaking of dessert, at dinner one night I had homemade tropical sorbets: coconut, lychee, guava, mango, and passion fruit. Oh my! And that was followed by Maui onion soup with aged Gruyère gratin ($13) and braised beef short rib with pearl onions, orange zest, and mashed potatoes ($33).

I had breakfast twice at the Terrace. Although the tap water is safe to drink, it doesn't taste great, but their fresh juices sure do. Each morning they had a different blend, or you could create your own. My favorite was the pineapple guava juice with unlimited refills ($7). The first day I had brioche french toast with Lanai banana, strawberry, and mango compote ($17). The following day I decided I needed to take it easy, so I ordered the Swiss BircherMuesli with bananas and fresh berries ($9). It's the first time I ever ordered muesli, but not the last. Holy cow, is it good! It's better than the french toast and, I think, better for you.

Lanai City is a three-minute shuttle bus ride away, or a 10-minute walk. It's the only city on the island and has the only gas station. All the major shopping and grocery stores are here, along with several restaurants. Most stores close by 6 p.m. and are closed on Sunday. The center of town is Dole Park, and that's where the shuttle bus drops you. I walked around checking out the prices in the grocery stores (can you believe bananas here are twice the price they are in L.A.?). But they have everything you need, and there's a movie theater that makes you feel like you took a time machine instead of an airplane over to Lanai. I did a double take when I saw the Gone With the Wind poster. It's gotta be some kind of clever marketing ploy to subliminally make tourists feel that going back to the island is really like going back in time.

I ate at Lanai City Grille, which is inside Hotel Lanai. It's a popular place, especially on Friday nights, so make a reservation. I had dinner with Waynette Kwon from the Lanai Visitors Bureau and Lacy Colley from Four Seasons public relations. I started with a lava flow, then had coconut cauliflower soup with roasted garlic ($9) and meatloaf ($20). It was darn good but we waited to have dessert back at the Koele Lodge by the fire (that's when I had the hot chocolate and s'mores). On the way, Waynette showed us all the deer-there are just as many deer as people on the island (over 3,000)-and she took us to a point where you could see the lights of Maui and Molokai crystal clear. Boy, was it beautiful.

The resort has a bunch of activities to do on-property or nearby, and this list doesn't include any of the water activities at Manele Bay (I will cover them next week). At Koele Lodge there's horseback riding (including horse-drawn carriage rides), croquet and lawn bowling, an executive golf course, hiking, 4x4 off-roading, tennis (the lodge has three new cushioned outdoor hard courts), bicycling, or clay shooting. I chose the latter.

I'm not a gun lover, but I signed up for a private 45-minute lesson at Lana‘i Pine Sporting Clays & Archery Range for $85 (includes 25 bullets). I've gone shooting a couple times, once in Connecticut and the other time in New Zealand. I could never kill anything, but man am I happy to destroy the crap out of the biodegradable sporting clays. My instructor, Mike, born and raised in Hawaii and a former shooting champ, picked me up at the hotel. On the 10-minute drive to their operation (their property is surrounded by Iron pines, which were planted to shield the wind), he told me that there's almost an equal number of women and men who shoot there. He said women usually do better because they listen. Men seem to know it all, even if they've shot just once or twice, which was how I was feeling because I'm not into any long lessons.

All I had to do was sign my life away, put on a shooting vest, insert ear plugs, wear glasses, and fire. That is, after he told me to stand up straight, rest my cheek on the handle towards the front, and keep my left foot in front. The next thing you know, I was saying "pull" and out flies the clay disc. FYI: He said if he shot a board up close it would put a big hole in it, but if you were 100 yards away the pellets would feel like rain. I wasn't going to find out if he was lying or not. There are 14 stations, all with different views and styles-some roll like rabbits, others hover. It's a favorite activity for corporate functions and parties, and they have mounted pellet machine guns for kids and bow and arrows for everyone. It was so much fun I almost went back on my own to shoot. They charge 80 cents a target and $8 for a round of 25 bullets. At the end you get presented with a certificate. Surprisingly, I'm a pretty good shot: I hit about 80 percent of the targets.

After all that eating and hard work shooting, it was time to check out the Koele Lodge's Spa Suite. It's really just a former room suite turned into a massage room, which is mainly used for couples massages. The therapists come up from Manale Bay's spa, which is a posh operation. The room and table here is so comfortable, and the sheets and blankets so soft and smooth, that I could've slept there. My masseuse was a Hawaiian native but trained in New York. She had really strong hands, which is what I requested, Later, when we were sitting on the deck drinking cold ice tea and I was popping peeled pistachios, dried cranberries, and almonds into my mouth (they also had wasabi peas and sesame sticks), I found out that she worked on the NY Giants football players for years. During my Lomi Lomi massage (it's an authentic Hawaiian experience with long strokes and flowing rhythm) she used a hot towel with peppermint oil to loosen up my back muscles-it felt like tiger balm but smoother.

The front of the lodge looks more like Hawaii than the back, where there are riding stables and an old Hawaiian church. There's also a huge pineapple painted on the front. The air in the upcountry is so crisp and clean, the stars bright and plentiful, and the lush gardens so tranquil that it makes it difficult to leave. All that, plus the friendly staff and spectacular food and views, meant I wasn't surprised to learn about all of Koele's awards. In 2010 they made Condé Nast Traveler's World's Best Places to Stay Gold List and Travel + Leisure's 500 World's Best Hotels. Rates start at $295 per night and they have a deal that with a two–night stay you receive a third night free (valid through December 18, 2010). For more information log on to their website or call 1-800-321-4666.

If you don't have time to read the story or go through the 55-picture slide show, check out my four-minute video of my trip to Koele Lodge and Lanai City.

Next week, more Lanai! This time the coastal resort of Manele Bay.

*PLEASE tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Four Seasons Koele & Lanai Visitors Bureau

See The Lanai Photo Slide Show

Copyright 2010 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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See The Lanai Photo Slide Show




  • Johnny Jet you are my hero. Truly! Jen L - San Diego, CA

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  • Great article but you were wrong about the house that the Obama's rent in Kailua. Also, the next time you are in Kailua, a must is a visit to Island Snow, a cool beach store that is the locals favorite for shave ice (Obama's too), and cool sportswear. Honolulu, HI

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